August 19, 2016 – A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the AFSPC-6 mission for the United States Air Force lifted off from Space Launch Complex-37 in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on August 19 at 12:52 a.m. EDT.
“Thank you to the ULA, Air Force and industry partners for the outstanding teamwork and flawless execution that made today’s mission a success,” said Laura Maginnis, ULA vice president of Custom Services. “This morning’s AFSPC-6 launch is a prime example of why our customers continue to place their trust in us to launch our nation’s crucial space capabilities.”
The mission was launched aboard a Delta IV Medium+ (4,2) configuration Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) powered by one common booster core. The common booster core was powered by an RS-68A liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine powered by the second stage. The booster and upper stage engines are both built by Aerojet Rocketdyne.
The AFSPC-6 mission consists of twin Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSSAP) spacecraft, built by Orbital ATK. The satellites will operate in near-geosynchronous orbit and collect Space Situational Awareness (SSA) data for more accurate tracking and characterization of man-made objects in Earth orbit. GSSAP has a clear, unobstructed and distinct vantage point for viewing space objects orbiting earth in a near-synchronous orbit without the weather or atmosphere disruptions that limit ground-based observations.
The data from GSSAP greatly improves the ability to rapidly detect, warn, characterize and attribute disturbances to space systems in the geosynchronous environment. More timely and accurate orbit predictions of man-made objects improves space flight safety and satellite collision avoidance.
GSSAP Satellites can also perform Rendezvous and Proximity Operations (RPO), allowing the space vehicle to maneuver near a resident space object and image and survey it for characterization and anomaly resolution.
The two new satellites will join the first two GSSAP spacecraft, also launched aboard a ULA Delta IV rocket, on July 28, 2014.
“The first two GSSAP satellites have performed remarkably well,” said Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, SMC commander and Air Force program executive officer for space. “These next two satellites will add to that capability and enable us to understand more completely what occurs in the geosynchronous orbit to a very high quality. It’s a key piece in the puzzle for space situational awareness.”
The satellites in the GSSAP constellation support U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) and the Joint Functional Component Commander for Space (JFCC-SPACE). Operated by U.S. Air Force Space Command, the GSSAP System provides precise data twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
GSSAP satellites communicate through the Air Force Satellite Control Network (AFSCN) ground stations, which relay data to Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado. 50th Space Wing satellite operators of the 1st Space Operations Squadron (1 SOPS) oversee day-to-day operations.
This is ULA’s seventh launch in 2016 and the 110th successful launch since the company was formed in December 2006. ULA’s next launch is the Atlas V OSIRIS-Rex mission for NASA. The launch is scheduled for September 8 from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
The EELV program was established by the U.S. Air Force to provide assured access to space for Department of Defense (DoD) and other government payloads. The commercially developed EELV program supports the full range of government mission requirements, while delivering on schedule and providing significant cost savings over the heritage launch systems.
In addition to the satellites that were deployed, Orbital ATK also provided propulsion, key composite structures and other components on the Delta IV launch vehicle.